There is a trope that gets bandied about every now again. Not just by ” Shiny Aspie” and “Aspie Supremacist” types, but by prominent autistics such as Temple Grandin and non-autistics such as Tony Atwood. And it is the throwaway comment that “autistic peoole are the next stage of human evolution.”
I’m not even sure where to start with this one. I’m not a geneticist or an expert on evolution. But I did study it in university and I’m pretty sure I have a grasp of the basics. And I believe that trope is wrong. Very wrong.
I can see why those people would feel comfortable throwing the trope around though. It’s got a nice ring to it. It makes them feel like somehow autistics are superior. That at last we have a good thing going on. But, really, that’s not how it works.
First, let’s look at an image that a lot of people think depicts “human evolution”:
It shows a progression, from left to right, of what looks like a gorilla, to a more upright ape, to a “caveman” style early human, to a “modern” white man. I’m sure you’ve already spotted the racism and sexism in this image so I don’t need to point it out. Also, early humans who wore animal furs are actually no different, genetically, from modern humans so I don’t know why that’s there. Unless the artist meant to depict a Neanderthal, but we haven’t evolved from them so that’s totally wrong. Though we, or at least certain humans, may have some Neanderthal DNA somewhere.
These type of “progression” images are actually quite wrong. Evolution isn’t some orderly progression from more “primitive” forms to more “advanced” forms, with humans at the very end. That is not how it works. Evolution is driven by adaptations to the environment in which the organism finds itself. So, if a “modern” human found itself somehow back in time to when the ape on the left was found, the ape and not the human would be the creature best adapted to the environment there.
For a species to evolve, there has to be an advantage (or at the very least, a neutrality) to the traits that are passed on through natural selection. Right now, yes, some autistics might have an edge to using technology. But that’s not enough of an advantage. Many non-autistics are also adept at using, designing and working with technology. Let’s not pretend that those are exclusively autistic traits.
Those traits would have to also form the basis of some sort of selection criterion for mating. Given how so many autistics have trouble finding a partner and having children, I’m not sure this is the case. Yes, more autistics are finding partners due to the internet and technology. This is a wonderful thing. But even if we all started having a heap more children, and even if more of our children were also autistic, perhaps due to us marrying other autistics, it’s not going to make enough of a difference to lead to any sort of “human evolution”. And unless we segregate the different neurotypes and prevent them from having children together, there is no chance whatsoever of any form of speciation. Non-autistics are just too well adapted to this environment for any autistic genes to ever dominate. And autistic genes will always form only a tiny percentage of the overall human gene pool.
Is our environment right now slightly better for us autistics than it previously was? Certainly. Has technology played a big part in that. Of course it has. But please don’t mistake those small changes with us now somehow living in an environment where there is an evolutionary advantage to having autistic genes. That will probably never happen.
And of course, environments change. Things like a possible nuclear war, and the disruption that will come with climate change, mean that we have no idea what an ‘evolved’ human race may end up looking like. If we don’t go extinct first, the next evolution of the human race may look more like a creature that can tolerate extreme weather and perhaps a radioactive athmosphere. And can fight other creatures over scarce resources. And I’m not sure autistic genes necessarily confer those advantages.